1849 - Hursthouse, C. An Account of the Settlement of New Plymouth - CHAPTER I: Situation--Climate.

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  1849 - Hursthouse, C. An Account of the Settlement of New Plymouth - CHAPTER I: Situation--Climate.
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CHAPTER I: Situation--Climate.

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Situation--Climate--General appearance--Natural features.

THE Settlement of New Plymouth, or Taranaki, was founded in 1841, by the Plymouth Company of New Zealand, which afterwards merged into the present Company. An. experienced surveyor, F. A. Carrington, Esq., was first despatched to choose the site of the future settlement. He arrived at Wellington in January 1841, and, after advising with Colonel Wakefield, proceeded to examine Queen Charlotte's Sound, Blind Bay, and the Taranaki district lying around Cape Egmont, which forms the north-west point of the northern island, near the entrance to Cook's Strait; and here, twenty-five miles north of the Cape, in latitude 39 deg. 1' south, longitude 174 deg. 15' east, the site was at last admirably chosen.

New Plymouth, by sea, is 180 miles from Wellington, 150 from Nelson, and 120 from the harbour of Manukau, whence there is an excellent road of only six miles to Auckland. This central situa-

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tion, between the Company's principal settlements and the capital, gives it ready access to the best home-markets; and, as part of New Zealand, its relative position to the Australian continent--to the beautiful islands of the South Pacific--to countries rich in tropical productions--is an important feature in its natural capabilities. For instance, on the one side, within 1,300 miles, lie Sydney, Port Philip, and Van Diemen's Land--on the other, about as near, the Friendly and Society Islands, the Marquesas, and Navigators', the Tonga, and the Fejee group; whilst Manilla, Batavia, and Singapore are within five to six weeks' sail.

The Settlement enjoys the usual climate of New Zealand. Emigrants may fail to realise all they read in the early and glowing accounts of this country; but an excellent climate will assuredly be found. In this respect, the greater part of New Zealand is as superior to Australia, as that country may be to Canada or the United States; for, although some portions of Australia possess a fine climate, the summer heat is everywhere excessive, which, if not the cause of disease, would nevertheless prevent the enjoyment of that robust health experienced in New Zealand; where it may be said, that Europeans are more capable of doing hard labour with comparative case than in any part of the world. Here, too, droughts are unknown, and though not of very frequent occurrence in Australia, the distress and ruin caused when they have

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occurred show the superiority of a country never subject to these dreadful scourges.

From the remarkable equality of the climate of this Settlement it is impossible to define the seasons with accuracy: the coldest and wettest months are June, July, and August; the warmest and driest, January, February, and March. For the following Table, which has been kept with care and attention, I am indebted to my brother, Mr. John Hursthouse.

No correct thermometrical observations having been made here, those given are the Wellington-- the mean of 1846 and 1847, which will be found sufficiently accurate. The term "showery" is applied to days when there has been a shower of even half an hour's duration; "wet," when there has been rain which would have prevented out-door labour. It should be observed that this result is the average of three years; the variation was very little.


Mean Temperature in the Shade.

No. of Days Fine.

No. of Days Showery

No. of Days Wet.

Mean Temperature of the corresponding month in England.























April -































































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Mean annual temperature..................New Plymouth. 59....England. 49
Mean temperature of the three hottest months 66.... 61
Do. do. three coldest months 52.... 38
Difference............ 14....23

During the three years, or 1095 days, the wind was--
Light and variable, or nearly calm.................. 499
Moderate...................................... 393
Fresh.......................................... 187
Very strong and gales............................ 16

Snow is never seen except around Mount Egmont; ice is occasionally observed in the July mornings, but soon disappears under a brilliant sun, like that of an English September. The warmest weather is refreshed by sea-breezes, and the nights are invariably cool. Although the winter months are wet, and showers frequent through the greater part of the year, yet from the lightness of the soil, and the dryness and elasticity of the atmosphere prevailing in the fine weather, the climate is not felt to be damp. Fogs and mists are unknown; there are no hurricanes, and thunderstorms are neither so frequent nor severe as even in England. It is, however, a great but common mistake to suppose the climate of New Zealand almost tropical. For instance, the winter months on the east coast of the Middle Island are wet and raw; and even as regards Taranaki, on the

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Northern Island, and on the warmer western coast, the idea of a "tropical climate" occasionally leads to an omission in the emigrant's outfit. Nothing is brought but the lightest clothing, as if he expected to broil under an Indian or Australian sun. Now although, strictly speaking, there is no winter, yet many days in the wet months are cold enough to make moderately warm clothing requisite; and there are not fifty evenings in the year when a fire would be found uncomfortable.

The climate is admirably adapted to agricultural purposes. A distinguished writer on the subject says, "The quantity of rain that falls annually in any country is a very inferior consideration, when compared with that of the general and equable distribution of that quantity throughout the several days and months of the year. A great quantity at the same time is rather hurtful than beneficial; whereas those moderate but golden showers which regularly fall on a soil calculated to receive them, are real sources of fertility." The Table here given shows that in January, the harvest month, there are only five days showery and one wet; thus, probably, not three in the thirty-one would stop work. February and March, the season for burning bush, taking up potatoes, and preparing finally for wheat, are nearly as dry; whilst for the remaining nine months --the mean number of showery days in each being ten, June with fourteen and September with seven --vary but little from the average.

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The soil is so light that the effects of the heaviest rain soon disappear. In the richest district in Scotland, the "Carse of Gowrie," it is said that there are only twenty weeks in the year fit for ploughing, and thirty are probably over the average in England: here it would be difficult to find a day when, as regarded the mere state of the soil, ploughing, or any other operation, could not be performed with the greatest facility.

This climate, as might be expected, is highly salubrious. The children born here are considered by their mothers to be remarkably fine, and, making all due allowance for maternal hyperbole, they certainly promise to be a large and robust race. By the census of 1847, the population was 1137; the births that year and in 1846, when the census was 1089, amounted jointly to 104, the deaths to fourteen, two of which were accidental; yet, in 1847, fever and hooping-cough were introduced into the Settlement from Auckland. This shows the annual ratio of births to be one in 18; --of deaths, one in 159; whereas in England, the births are one in about thirty-two--the deaths one in forty-four. This comparison does not prove Taranaki to be superior in salubrity to England to the enormous extent indicated by these figures; for some fatal diseases common to humanity have not yet been introduced into the country, and most of the emigrants to this Settlement were in the prime of life. On the other hand, however, recollecting that the pioneers or

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first settlers in a wild country have to undergo considerable hardships, it will probably be admitted that the small proportion of deaths to births which these returns exhibit, must be partly owing to the excellent climate of the district. 1

The general appearance of the Settlement is very beautiful. On approaching it from sea, the town, or rather village, is seen snugly situated near the beach, its white houses contrasting prettily with the vivid greenness of all around. Behind, and on either side, are the near cultivations; whilst frequently some rising columns of smoke will indicate the more distant clearings. Almost to the water's edge, and for a considerable distance back, the country is covered with a luxuriant growth of fern, joining a forest ever fresh and green, and of the richest foliage; to this, as a fitting background, sixteen miles from the coast, is seen a range of wooded hills, from which rises Mount Egmont, the finest natural object in New Zealand: 9,000 feet high, of a beautiful cone-like shape, thickly wooded round its base, but always capped with snow and dazzling white, Mount Egmont is quite the pride of the Settlement, and the admiration of every beholder.

The country is undulating, and so interspersed with small dells, that almost every section possesses

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one. These dells, although causing some broken ground, are nevertheless beneficial to the cultivator, and a marked and beautiful feature in the scenery. They vary in size from half an acre to two or three acres, are densely wooded, and generally contain a small but unfailing spring. Thus they afford a near supply of wood and water, shade and shelter for stock; or, when partly cleared out and opened to the right aspect, the finest spots for orchards, or for the growth of any plants requiring rich soil and close protection from wind. The graceful fern-tree here attains its largest size, displaying its elegant leaves in fine contrast with the fuschia, the laurel-like karaka, and the rich and varied shades of the dense foliage around. The dells mostly resound with the song of birds; and, scattered through the cultivations, give close shelter in harvest time to that petty depradator on the corn-fields--the elegant green parroquet.

The most phlegmatic admirer of the beauties of nature would be charmed with the appearance of the country. For those who prefer the grand and romantic, there is the lofty snow-capped mountain, with its noble slopes and wood-crowned ranges. The taste for sylvan scenery and quiet rustic beauty is equally gratified by the frequency of stream and forest, glade and valley, clearings and snug homesteads: few countries offer so many beautiful and convenient sites for either cottage or mansion.

The district possesses an abundance of water.

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Between the town and the river Waitera, a distance of ten miles, there are eight fine running streams. Springs and rivulets abound; and in the few wells which have been sunk, water was generally obtained at from thirty to forty feet.

The soil may be called a very light, friable loam, with a porous subsoil; it is divided, locally, into three sorts, each marked by a different vegetation. The first is but a strip, extending along the coast, covered with light fern, interspersed with tufts of grass, and freely mixed, especially nearest the shore, with the black iron sand which is so plentiful here. The productive powers of this sand are rather surprising. Almost on the beach, within sixty yards of high-water mark, some early emigrants formed a few rough gardens, which produced excellent crops of vegetables; and, strange as it may seem to an English farmer, upwards of sixteen bushels of wheat have been obtained from a quarter of an acre of nearly the same description of soil.

The second division, adjoining this, is a tract of great extent, covered with fern, six to eight feet high, intermixed with a small bush called "tutu," and a species of tall grass called "toe-toe." The surface is a vegetable decomposition of from seven to ten inches, matted together by the fern-root, with a light, yellow subsoil, of many feet in depth, entirely free from stones, shells, gravel, or clay. The principal farms are on this land; and it may here be observed, that the chief difference, as respects the

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cultivation of this soil and the preceding, is, that it requires more exposure before cropping.

The third division is the Bush, or forest-land, which joins the fern, and extends along the country in a rather irregular line, two to five miles from the coast, and a considerable distance hack into the interior. This soil in appearance resembles the second description of fern-land, but turns up quite mellow, and fit for cropping at once.

1   Vibrations, or slight tremblings of the earth, are occasionally experienced, but have never, in the memory of the oldest natives, caused the least damage.

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